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Tributes to kitsch and kin

November 11, 2007|Lizzie Skurnick

"Mother is gone / only Things remain" reads the epigraph to "Classic Layer Cakes," one of the central poems in David Trinidad's confection-laced collection, "The Late Show" (Turtle Point Press: 110 pp., $16.95 paper). The Denise Levertov quote could easily serve as the epigraph to the entire work. Trinidad is a meticulous curator of pop-culture flotsam -- silver-screen sirens, Barbie, '60s-era lip gloss -- and his autobiographical verse is a graceful, merry wink to gay culture. (In "A Poem Under the Influence," he goes so far as to declare, "To this day, if I can fit 'pink' in a poem, I do.") But "The Late Show" is an hommage to both Hollywood and Trinidad's own ghosts flickering across the screen. Chief among these are his mother, dead of cancer, and his lover, poet and artist Joe Brainard, whose 1970 work "I Remember" used that phrase as a jumping-off point and spawned a poetry workshop standard. "The Late Show" is a kaleidoscopic "I Remember" where now-gone players from the poetry world -- James Schuyler, Tim Dlugos and Rachel Sherwood -- make apperances, bracketed by Trinidad's usual ready referents: actress Thelma Ritter, the Lana Turner version of "Imitation of Life" and Water Wiggle. Trinidad uses a jumble of forms to evoke them all: sonnets, odes, sestinas, free verse, with nods to Neruda, Wilde, Dickinson and Plath. (At times, quotes from Trinidad's friends rival the snappy patter of screenplays: "He's been crossed off guest lists I didn't know existed.") It's no accident that the forms at which Trinidad excels -- pantoums, sestinas -- do not propel a narrative forward but circle back, repeat, emphasize. "The Late Show" is less a monument to the past than a salvage. Like the adult narrator of "Classic Layer Cakes," who scours flea markets to acquire the complete set for a Deluxe Reading Barbie Dream Kitchen, Trinidad scours his own past for each cracked, orphaned accessory.

-- Lizzie Skurnick

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